Gatchaman v5.1: "This Circus We're In"
THIS CIRCUS WE'RE IN
Emby Quinn (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Say you don't want it again and again
But you don't, you don't really mean it
Say you don't want it, this circus we're in
But you don't, you don't really mean it
You don't, don't really mean it
"Spark", Tori Amos
* * *
"You look like hell."
"Thanks for the compliment."
"If you're sick, you should see a doctor."
"First your brother, then you. I don't need other people to tell me how to run my life."
"It's no wonder if Ken's worried about you. So am I. Look at yourself--you look like the walking dead. Joe, there's something wrong. If I can see it, it's got to be obvious."
"Will you stop nagging me before--"
"What are you going to do? Punch me? Will that make you feel any better? Go ahead, then."
* * *
Miya woke and sat bolt upright in bed.
"Joe..." she whispered into the darkness of the room. Without looking, she reached for the space beside her, knowing it would be empty. Joe hadn't been to her apartment in days. She hadn't heard from him since he'd stormed out, after that terrible fight. Their first.
She wrapped her arms around her knees, feeling terribly alone. Aside from Joe, her only friends were the rest of the Science Ninja team--and all of them had been too busy of late to spend much time with her. Only Joe had been around to see her, making time to be with her, and since he'd walked out on her she hadn't heard a word from anyone. Small wonder; things were obviously building to a crisis point. If only there were something she could do to help...
The whole bloody world could come to an end at any moment, and all I can do is sit here and feel sorry for myself because my friends have to bust their asses to try and save it, so they're too busy to sit around and hold my hand.
That was an unfair assessment, uncharitable to herself, but Miya wasn't in a very charitable mood. She'd handled Joe badly, she'd known it the moment the door had shut behind him. Instead of letting him tell her what was happening to him in his own way, his own time, she'd tried to force the issue--with disastrous results. All she could do was hope the crisis was over soon, so she could get the chance to see him, talk to him, try to make things right between them. By then surely Nambu would have found out what was wrong with Joe and made him well. She had to believe that or she'd go insane.
With a heavy sigh she rose from the bed. She'd be getting no more sleep tonight.
She made herself a cup of strong tea and settled down to watch the news. It wasn't very uplifting. The world governments were in a panic over Galactor's latest threats. The top analysts were forecasting that if Galactor didn't start a war, some of the lesser countries with nuclear capabilities would, and soon.
A knock at the door made her start. Her nerves were frayed almost to the breaking point. She gathered her robe around herself and went to answer the door. She wondered briefly who would be calling on her at six in the morning. Ken, most likely, or possibly Jun. Maybe the Snack was finally open again--
She wasn't expecting to see Joe standing there when she opened the door, but that's who it was. He looked worse than when she'd last seen him--far worse than a few days' time could account for. He was noticeably thinner, his cheekbones standing out in sharp relief under haggard, almost bruised-looking eyes that had almost no color. His dark blond hair was a wild, dull tangle the color of dead leaves, and he looked as though he might collapse at any moment.
"Aren't you going to invite me in?" he husked. His voice, always low and slightly rough, was so hoarse it had almost no tone to it at all.
She took his arm and pulled him inside. His flesh was cold and strangely dry under her fingers. "What the hell?" she asked, sitting him down on the sofa and turning off the television with a careless wave of the remote. "Joe, what happened to you?"
"I can't stay long," he told her. He sat forward, elbows on knees, and swiped his hair out of his weary eyes. "I just wanted to see you again."
"You could have called. Does Nambu know you're out in this condition?"
"Well, I think he should know, don't you?" She reached for the phone, lifted the handset.
Joe's hand flickered out and plucked the handset from her fingers, setting it back in the cradle. "No."
She scowled at him. "Joe, you are sick. I am not a doctor, I don't know how to take care of you, and you need medical help and you need it now!"
She grabbed the phone again. This time Joe seized both handset and cradlebox from her hands and tore them from her, yanking the cord from the wall, and pitched the whole assembly across the room.
"It's no good, Miya." He caught her wrists in his hands--whatever was wrong with him hadn't affected his strength--and pulled her down to sit beside him. "I don't have a lot of time, so just sit and listen. Please."
Miya's mind raced. If she let him talk, maybe she could convince him to get the help he obviously needed. The last thing she wanted was to have him storm out again. This time he might not come back..."All right, Joe," she said, keeping her voice calm and (she hoped) reassuring. "I'm listening."
His hands--so cold, they were--held her wrists in a grip that was almost painfully tight. He looked into her eyes; Miya was shocked to see how bloodshot they were. He looked as if he hadn't slept since she'd last seen him. And he appeared to be having trouble focusing on her face; he blinked hard, squinting as though trying to see her through a dense fog.
It was a long time before he actually said anything. Miya fought the urge to prompt him and simply sat there, letting him speak in his own time.
"Miya..." He let go with one hand and touched her scarlet fall of hair. "I want you to know that I'm sorry I walked out on you. A lot has happened and...and I should have come here sooner. Before..." He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. I'm sorry I've been such a lousy boyfriend to you."
"You haven't been, Joe." Miya put her hand on his chest and was alarmed at how hard his heart was pounding. "You're the one who helped me open up. You reached me when no one else could, not even my own brother. I don't know what's wrong, and I wish you would tell me--but whatever it is, we can get through it. Please...please let me help you."
"I wish you could." He raised her hand to his face and kissed her open palm. "I love you, Miyae."
She drew in a sharp breath. He'd never said those words before, and she couldn't remember him ever calling her by her real name. "I love you, Joe. You know that."
He pressed her hand against his chest, just over his hammering heart. "Just promise me that...no matter what happens, you'll take care of Ken. In case anything happens to me. Promise you'll take care of all of them."
"You know I would, Joe, except nothing is going to happen to you. I'm not letting you out of my sight until we get you some help. I'm going to call Nambu on the extension in the bedroom, and you're coming with me, and you're not going to rip the phone out of the wall, and everything is going to be all right." She started to stand up, but Joe held on to her. "Joe, please..."
"Cara." He pulled her close and kissed her, long and lingering. She tensed, then relaxed into the kiss. She had missed him so much. She let her guard, so carefully maintained, fall away.
He bore her down to the sofa with a rough gentleness and made love to her--slow, tender, nothing like the usual frantic heat between them. She tried to protest--admittedly, not very hard--but he silenced her with a shower of soft, long kisses. He wasn't well; he shouldn't be exerting himself, no matter how much they'd missed each other, no matter how good it felt to be in his arms, to have him inside her again...but he was determined, and finally she gave up any pretense of objection. Later, she promised herself silently, afterwards, then she'd steal away from him and call for the help he so obviously needed.
When they had finished, he drew back and sat up. He looked down at her, gazing deep into her eyes with a sad smile that made his worn, craggy face almost beautiful. "I'm sorry," he said, and hit her across the jaw with all his strength.
Sparks shot across her vision, then everything went black and silent.
* * *
The room was moving, and there was a fierce ringing in her ears. Her jaw ached miserably. Slowly Miya forced her leaden eyelids open, and realized finally that the ringing wasn't coming from inside her ears, but from the bedside telephone extension. She struggled to sit up, failed. The room was still moving, and there was a sound like thunder undercutting the insistent alarm of the phone's bell.
On unsteady feet she fought her way across the room--damn, she'd been knocked out before, but never had she had this kind of reaction, the damned room wouldn't stop moving--she fell face-first beside the bed, skinning her chin on the rough carpet. She grabbed the edge of the nightstand and pulled herself up, flailing for the ringing phone.
Finally her hand connected with the handset and she maneuvered it to her face. "What...hello...?"
"Miyae? Are you all right?"
"No. Dr. Nambu...?" She forced herself up to her knees. "I think there's a quake going on."
"I'm sure. Have you seen Joe?"
"Joe?" Gingerly she felt her chin. "Yes, but--I think he's gone now." She looked at the bedside alarm clock and cringed. "About six hours ago." Damn, did he hit me that hard? Or was I just that wiped out after three days with next to no sleep?
"Damn." A heavy sigh from the other end of the connection. "Do you know where the Institute building is?"
"I think I remember." Miya grabbed hold of the headboard of her bed as a particularly rough tremor shook the room. Her bookcase fell over with a loud crash.
"When the quake subsides, try to make your way here. There's a lot going on, and you might as well know the truth before it's too late."
"Sounds ominous." Miya swallowed past a lump in her throat. "Is it...about Joe?"
"Just get here as soon as it's relatively safe." Click.
Miya stared at the dead handset for a long moment, then hung up the phone. "Why do I get the feeling things are about to get a lot worse?" she asked the empty room around her.
The quakes stilled after about ten minutes. Miya took her motorcycle out onto the street; navigating the roadways was difficult enough, and had she been driving a car she never would have made it through.
* * *
"What the hell?" Miya demanded as she was nearly thrown off her feet in the doorway of Nambu's office. The doctor braced himself and her in the doorway until the shaking subsided. "Nobody calls me for weeks, then Joe shows up at my door, rips the phone out of the wall, apologizes for God knows what, then knocks me cold--see the bruise?--without so much as a word of explanation--"
"It's bad," he told her. "Sit down; I don't know how much time there is left."
Nambu told Miya everything he knew--about the Black Hole plan, the potential destruction of the Earth, the likelihood that the team would die on this final and most important mission. Miya listened in silence, the color slowly draining from her otherwise expressionless face.
"And Joe...?" she whispered. "Something's wrong with him, I know it. He's sick, isn't he?"
"He sustained severe brain damage during a recent encounter with Galactor...he has a week to live, according to the physician, ten days at most."
Miya shook her head slowly. "He never said...he wouldn't tell me a word..."
Nambu's telephone beeped, and he snatched up the handset. "Yes? --Of course." He hung up and stood. "I'll be back in a moment."
Nambu retreated into another office, leaving Miya to sit alone with her thoughts. She wrapped her long arms around herself, shivering as though with intense cold. Joe, dying...the others on a suicide mission...
When the doctor returned, Miya jumped to her feet. "What...?"
"The God Phoenix is coming back. The Black Hole Plan has been halted. Overlord X is gone, and Katze is dead. Galactor as we know it no longer exists."
"Thank God...no, wait something's still wrong. Tell me." Miya studied Nambu's masklike expression for some clue. Her heart nearly stilled. "Ken? Is he--? No...it's Joe, isn't it? He's...not coming back."
"Joe chose his death. It was what he wanted. The others will be here soon. I have to attend a press conference. I'll be back as soon as I can, but...I was hoping you would meet the team for me. They'll be arriving in the subterranean shuttle terminal within the half-hour. I'll be there as quickly as I can, but...if you would..."
"Of...course." Quietly, almost a whisper.
Nambu left his office, and Miya buried her face in her hands. "Joe..."
* * *
The underground shuttle from the seaside docking bay arrived about twenty minutes later. The magnetically-driven car stopped, and one by one the surviving team members emerged, sad and sick at heart. Ken was the last to disembark, and he saw waiting for them, instead of Nambu, his own sister. For a moment she just stood there, looking at him and the others, her face composed...then her mask crumpled, and she burst into tears and ran to him. Ken wrapped his arms around his sister and cried with her. Jun comforted a sobbing Jinpei, and without a word a silently weeping Ryu put one arm around Ken's shoulders, the other around Jun's.
* * *
A week later.
It was a lovely day, fresh with the promise of spring. Children laughed and played in the sunshine; here and there, couples of all ages were walking hand in hand.
Near the central fountain, two people, a man and a woman, were leaning on the wrought-iron fence surrounding the cascade of clear water. The man had dark hair, the woman was a redhead, but their faces bore features that proclaimed close kinship.
Ken looked at Miyae's profile, trying to read her thoughts, and failing as always. The bruise on the left side of her chin--Joe's farewell token--was faded, almost gone. "Are you going to do as the doctor has asked?"
Miyae looked up at the clear blue sky. "One of the last things Joe said to me was, 'Promise me you'll take care of all of them.' He meant you--his family. And mine. He knew he was dying, and he never said a word to me."
"He knew Nambu would need someone to step into his place." Ken put a hand on his sister's shoulder. "He was asking you to do that."
"I know...but I don't know if I can. I can't take his place, Ken, and I don't know if I can make his place my own." She swallowed hard, then looked at her brother. Her wide blue eyes were as haunted and lost as his. "When there's a need for the Kagaku Ninjatai again...ask me again and I'll consider it, for your sake...and for Joe's."
Ken gathered Miyae into his arms and hugged her tight; with a sigh, she returned the embrace. They stood there for a few moments, drawing and giving what comfort they could, before walking off together towards the Snack Jun.
* * *
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